- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Adding dental and vision coverage to Arkansas’ compromise Medicaid expansion would cost nearly $43 million, according to a report released Thursday, but state officials said they’re not looking at expanding the program’s benefits.

A report commissioned by the state Insurance Department projected that adding the coverage to the state’s “private option,” would cost about $20 a month per person in the program. More than 170,000 people are enrolled in the private option, which is using federal funds to purchase insurance for the poor.

The report, released to a legislative panel, projected the cost of adding that coverage to the program would be $42.6 million.

Under the private option, Arkansas is using federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. The program was approved last year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

One of the insurers under the program is offering dental and vision coverage, something that the state didn’t originally intend, and that coverage is set to end in 2015. Medicaid officials have said that coverage is one of the reasons why the cost of the program had been running above projections.

DHS Director John Selig said the state couldn’t add dental and vision to the private option until 2016, but said that’s not an option they’re considering. The state would have to pay if it added the coverage if it went above the cap spelled out in its agreement with the federal government for setting up the Medicaid expansion.

“We wouldn’t want to add it now until we’re sure we can meet the cost neutrality piece,” Selig said.

Selig said the state won’t have to pay for the vision and dental benefits that are set to expire at the end of the year, since the federal government had approved its inclusion in the program.

Officials said they’re also on track to release their plans for adding health savings accounts to the private option in August, with hearings to be held on the program. Under legislation approved earlier this year to reauthorize the private option, the state must win approval for the accounts by February to keep the expanded health care program alive.

“It’s not like we can look to see who else did it successfully,” Surgeon General Joe Thompson told lawmakers. “We will be blazing that trail.”

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